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January 31, 2015 / 11 Shevat, 5775
 
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Stan Musial Gentleman Hero

Musial told the taunted Jackie Robinson: "I want you to know that I'm not like many of the other guys on my team."
Fifty years ago Stan Musial (left) was in the final season of an illustrious career with the St. Lois Cardinals while former Brooklyn Dodger Duke Snider was playing his only season in a New York Mets uniform.

Fifty years ago Stan Musial (left) was in the final season of an illustrious career with the St. Lois Cardinals while former Brooklyn Dodger Duke Snider was playing his only season in a New York Mets uniform.

All of us who were old enough at the time remember where we were on November 22, 1963, when we heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

That day and the days of mourning that followed are ingrained in our minds. The recent 50th anniversary of the assassination brought us back half a century. President Kennedy was better looking than most Hollywood leading men, and his wife, Jacqueline, and their two children captivated many around the world.

During the baseball season of 1963, Sandy Koufax provided Jewish fans with a sense of pride and accomplishment as he dominated National League batters.

In May he pitched a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants and on July 3, he tied a Dodgers team record by pitching his seventh shutout of the season. Koufax ended the season with 11 shutouts, 25 victories, 306 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA to lead both leagues in the aforementioned categories. Koufax also dominated the World Series as he won two games against the Yankees. He went the distance twice and struck out 23 in 18 innings and posted a 1.50 ERA.

In that summer of ’63, the baseball world was also watching the activities of 42-year-old Stan Musial, who was winding down his Hall of Fame career.

Musial, who had an unusual pretzel-like batting stance, ended his career with a .331 lifetime average and 475 home runs, and he had 17 seasons in which he hit .310 or better. He won seven batting titles. Musial topped the 20-home run mark ten times and in six of those seasons he topped the 30 plateau. He’d served in the Navy in 1945 and thus missed out on a chance to reach 500 career home runs.

A role model off the field as well, Musial married his high school sweetheart and they were a team until the end. Musial stayed in St. Louis and was the general manager in 1967 when the Cardinals defeated Boston to win the World Series.

As a player with the Cardinals in the early 1940s, Musial played in the only ballpark (Sportsmans Park) that restricted black fans to the right field bleachers. There were several racists among his teammates and one, Enos Slaughter, was rumored to have been involved with the Ku Klux Klan.

When Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers in 1947, he was subjected to racial taunts from the St. Louis dugout. Musial went over to Robinson and told him, “I want you to know that I’m not like many of the other guys on my team.”

Ten years after Robinson’s major league debut, there was still an invisible wall dividing black and white players. At the 1957 All-Star Game in St. Louis, players were passing time playing cards before batting practice. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson were off to one side a distance away from the white stars and Musial came over and said, “Deal me in, guys.” White players couldn’t help but notice what the great Stan “The Man” Musial did and how he treated everyone

An outstanding player and a true gentleman, he was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama at the White House in 2011.

Musial lived another half-century after his playing days ended in 1963. He passed away earlier this year. I’ll always remember his ever-present smile, his thrice repeated greeting of “Whaddya say, whaddya say, whaddya say,” and his constant companion – his harmonica.

His harmonica rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Hall of Fame induction ceremonies was something to see and hear.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


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4 Responses to “Stan Musial Gentleman Hero”

  1. Dan Silagi says:

    I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan as a little boy, and after the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for L.A. in 1957, I remained one until Drysdale retired at the start of the '69 season. Musial was more to be feared than Willie Mays, as far as I was concerned.

    In 1969, my girlfriend and I drove from Chicago, where I was a graduate student and IT guy at a Chicago bank, to St. Louis to visit the Arch and to take in a Cubs – Cardinals game. We dined at Musial's, where the food was outstanding. The Man came over to our table and he couldn't be more gracious, despite the Cubs' winning earlier that day.

  2. Alan Kardon says:

    I was a child when he played. I was a NY Giant fan and Willie Mays was my hero. Had a Stan Musial glove. Great player and I admired his playing abilities. Nice to know that he is a class act.

  3. Bruce Bevitz says:

    My first baseball glove was a Stan Musial Model by I think Rawlings. It was a three finger as opposed to a four finger model, something not done today. I followed Stan The Man assiduously because of that even though I was a Phillies fan in the era of Richie Ashburn, Pancho Herrera and Jim Bunning.

  4. Dan Silagi says:

    I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan as a little boy, and after the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for L.A. in 1957, I remained one until Drysdale retired at the start of the '69 season. Koufax, my real idol, retired two years before but I could never bring myself to root for the Mets, and still can't. Musial was more to be feared than Willie Mays, as far as I was concerned.

    In 1969, my girlfriend and I drove from Chicago, my adopted home where I was a graduate student and IT guy at a major Chicago bank, to St. Louis to visit the Arch and to take in a Cubs – Cardinals game. We dined at Musial's, where the food was outstanding. The Man came over to our table and he couldn't have been more gracious, despite the Cubs' winning earlier that day.

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